Spontaneous mutations in maize pollen are frequent in some lines and arise mainly from retrotranspositions and deletions

Hugo K. Dooner, Qinghua Wang, Jun T. Huang, Yubin Li, Limei He, Wenwei Xiong, Chunguang Du

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


While studying spontaneous mutations at the maize bronze (bz) locus, we made the unexpected discovery that specific low-copy number retrotransposons are mobile in the pollen of some maize lines, but not of others. We conducted large-scale genetic experiments to isolate new bz mutations from several Bz stocks and recovered spontaneous stable mutations only in the pollen parent in reciprocal crosses. Most of the new stable bz mutations resulted from either insertions of low-copy number long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons or deletions, the same two classes of mutations that predominated in a collection of spontaneous wx mutations [Wessler S (1997) The Mutants of Maize, pp 385–386]. Similar mutations were recovered at the closely linked sh locus. These events occurred with a frequency of 2–4 × 10−5 in two lines derived from W22 and in 4Co63, but not at all in B73 or Mo17, two inbreds widely represented in Corn Belt hybrids. Surprisingly, the mutagenic LTR retrotransposons differed in the active lines, suggesting differences in the autonomous element make-up of the lines studied. Some active retrotransposons, like Hopscotch, Magellan, and Bs2, a Bs1 variant, were described previously; others, like Foto and Focou in 4Co63, were not. By high-throughput sequencing of retrotransposon junctions, we established that retrotranposition of Hopscotch, Magellan, and Bs2 occurs genome-wide in the pollen of active lines, but not in the female germline or in somatic tissues. We discuss here the implications of these results, which shed light on the source, frequency, and nature of spontaneous mutations in maize.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10734-10743
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - 28 May 2019


  • Inbred variation
  • LTR retrotransposon
  • Maize
  • Male sporogenesis
  • Spontaneous mutation


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